BAGHDAD: Shia fighters paraded in Baghdad yesterday in a dramatic show of force aimed at Sunni militants who seized a Syrian border crossing, widening a western front in an offensive threatening to rip Iraq apart.
Meanwhile, Washington readied a new diplomatic bid to unite Iraq’s fractious leaders and repel insurgents whose lightning offensive has displaced hundreds of thousands, alarmed the world and put Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki under growing pressure.
And in a sign the broad alliance of jihadists and anti-government elements behind the assault may be fracturing, internecine clashes killed 17 fighters in northern Iraq.
Security forces announced they were holding their own in several areas north of Baghdad, but officials said insurgents led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) jihadist group seized one of three official border crossings with Syria.
The takeover came a day after 34 members of the security forces were killed in the border town. The seizure of Al Qaim leaves just one of three official border crossings with Syria in the hands of the central government. The third is controlled by Kurdish forces.
Anti-government fighters already hold parts of the western province of Anbar, which abuts the Syrian border, after taking all of one city and parts of another earlier in the year. The battle for the strategic northern town of Tal Afar was in its seventh day, Maliki’s security spokesman said.
In Baghdad, thousands of armed fighters loyal to powerful Shia cleric Muqtada Al Sadr paraded in the Sadr City district, vowing to fight the offensive which began on June 9. Rank upon rank of fighters, wearing mostly camouflage but with some in black, carried Kalashnikov assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, light machineguns and rocket launchers.